Editor's Note: Guest blogger Brenden Hudson is a Butler University student. He is an intern at the Damien Center where he is responsible for the charity's online outreach efforts.
Shane Everett is a culinary student due to graduate April 30 with the hopes of becoming a sous-chef, second-in-command of a kitchen. He loves a good cheeseburger and lives life to the fullest.
Shane is HIV positive. He's also the first to tell you that he's not a victim.
Shane was first diagnosed in 1997, and he spent the next 12 years ignoring it. Despite the medical advances in HIV treatment, he just wasn't ready to deal with the changes the disease would bring to his life.
"When someone is diagnosed with HIV/AIDS they are most concerned about the changes in their life because of the disease," he said in retrospect. "This disease impacts relationships with others, sense of self, sex life, any future planning, hopes and fears, dreams and your career."
Instead of facing the disease head-on, he turned to alcohol and drugs, which led to two and a half years in prison for a drug offense. Shortly after he was released, he moved to Hawaii to escape his situation.
Shane moved back to Plainfield, IN, but he was soon stopped by police for a traffic violation. While stopped, the police found an empty vial with drug residue. Sentenced to another year in prison, Shane realized that he was the only person who had control over his life.
"I needed to find my future," he said. "If left on its own, this disease is a fast track to certain death." The drug regimen he took in prison was his saving grace because he was receiving treatment. Without it, he surely would not have survived.
After Shane was released from prison, he had no money, no transportation, no job, no home, and a criminal record. He was cornered. He couldn't even apply for food stamps because of his criminal record.
Unable to live with his family, Shane walked from Greenwood to downtown Indianapolis to stay at the Wheeler Mission, a social services organization that helps combat homelessness. Through the Wheeler Mission, Shane was introduced to Second Helpings, a community kitchen that combats hunger by distributing food to social services organizations and training unemployed and underemployed adults for careers in the culinary arts.
Shane enrolled into Second Helpings' culinary program and worked hard to be successful. Unfortunately, his time at Wheeler ran out, and Shane was once again without transportation or a home. He needed a place where he could do his homework, wash his clothes, and above all, take care of his health.
In January 2009, Shane found himself at the Damien Center, Indiana's primary HIV/AIDS service organization. Through the Damien Center's care coordination program, he was able to find housing with HOPWA, a program that provides housing to people with AIDS. He found transportation to his doctor appointments and his cooking classes through the Center. Unable to get food stamps, Shane had access to the Center's food pantry so he could maintain a proper diet. Finally, he was able to find insurance to help with his expensive AIDS medications.
"I never knew how much I didn't know," Shane admits. "But I'm not a victim. I had to face reality and make good choices on my own." He's thankful for the support he's received from the Damien Center; before, he had never had this type of encouragement.
Shane is now staying free from his addictions, taking his medications daily, and eating well. Soon to graduate from culinary school, he looks forward to every day with life and vigor. However, he is adamant about one thing. "I refuse to give up cheeseburgers," he said.
To help people like Shane, the Damien Center depends on fundraising events like Dining Out for Life. On April 29th, over 40 restaurants from the Indianapolis area will donate 25-50% of their day's income to the Damien Center. Visit www.damien.org or www.diningoutforlife.com to view participating restaurants in your area. Where will you dine out for life?